The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducted a national survey of 43,000 Americans, and found that three quarters of those who have recovered did so without receiving any form of treatment.


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, October 7, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

What percentages of people in recovery are treated and untreated?

Hi Stanton,

I'm in an argument with a colleague who insists that the only way people recover from alcoholism is to hit bottom and get sober in AA. Now I know this is false and that most people recover on their own and in myriad other ways but would like to be able to point him to research that delineates the percentages of people who have been diagnosed with alcohol dependence and how they report they recovered, e.g.:

On their own: 45%
Private therapy: 10%
AA: 9%

Are you aware of research like that?

Name withheld


Dear Name,

Yes I am. And your colleague is living in an alternative universe called "The American Recovery Movement." (Be careful - such individuals often react violently when presented with actual information.) In the real world, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) conducted interviews with a representative sample of 43,000 Americans in 2001-2002. Called the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), its results are quoted at the NIAAA Web site:

# Twenty years after onset of alcohol dependence, about three-fourths of individuals are in full recovery; more than half of those who have fully recovered drink at low-risk levels without symptoms of alcohol dependence.

About 75 percent of persons who recover from alcohol dependence do so without seeking any kind of help, including specialty alcohol (rehab) programs and AA. Only 13 percent of people with alcohol dependence ever receive specialty alcohol treatment.

In short:

75% of those who recover do so without any sort of treatment;

25% of the recovered are split betwen those who receive general therapy and those who enter rehab or AA.

Don't blame me for these data - blame your government!

Stanton Peele